Why is trust so tricky?

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How do I really know I can trust you to catch me?

Cirque du Soleil once again dazzled my senses, and rocked my world.  Last night under the temporary Big Top next to the Mall of America, we were vividly lectured in the intricate interdependence of leaders and follower, and trust. The word ‘amazing’ is bouncing around between my heart and head.

By now, you know the theme of my life’s work is helping people ‘work together.’  At some point in every conversation we wrestle with trust.  As the acrobats were swinging through the air above the audience, literally holding each others life with the strength of their hand-grips, I couldn’t help assess ‘why’ and ‘how.’

For human beings to trust — really trust — their future in the hands of another, we need three things to be absolute, and one thing that keeps it alive.  For acrobats to volunteer their lives to one another, they have to answer ‘absolutely yes’ to these three questions:

1) Sincerity — do I believe my colleagues have my personal best interest in mind?  If I’m flying around, expecting you to catch me mid air…I have to know the answer is ‘absolutely yes.’

2) Competence — do I believe you can do what we need you to do?  It’s one thing to say you have strong hands, a steady arm, nerves of steel and concentration that will allow you to catch me when I need you…but can you really do it?  I have to know the answer is ‘absolutely yes.’

3) Reliability — so…I know you have my best interest in mind, and I know you caught me really well…  Once.  Will you catch me time and time again?  Actually, do I believe you will catch me every time?  Absolutely yes.

Acrobatic trust isn’t all that different from executive team trust.  We need complementary strengths — the ‘catchers’ typically outweigh the ‘catchees’ 2 – 1.  But I wonder often wonder… “Why is ‘trust’ so tricky?”   Is trust a foundation, or an outcome.  It has to be earned (reliability), but we need to extend trust (competence) before anything significant can even be attempted (sincerity).

“Transparency” really helps…its the ‘special sauce.’   When there are no secrets; when we can see how things that effect our well-being are assembled and maintained, we can extend our trust more freely.

In the midst of all the gravity defying magic we’ve grown to love about Cirque Du Soleil, I found myself absolutely captured by watching the cast of characters, in full costume, assemble the safety net designed to catch the flying trapeze artists if they should fall.  In 90 seconds they executed a choreographed dance of snapping hooks into rings connecting wire, and rope…right in front of our eyes.  As the cast and crew executed every little step in the process, they looked each other square in the eye, giving the signal that the connection was secure — voila! Together they built a safety net.  Without that safety net, the audience would have been paralyzed with the thoughts of ‘what if…?’

Ok, I’ve already exceeded my word limit…so what’s the point?  Executive teams are like an acrobatic circus: it takes all kinds to make us effective.  For us to build trust, it’s a tricky triple play:  Sincerity (Do your really care about my self interst?), Competence (can you really do what we need you to do?) Reliability (Will you consistently, repeatedly do what we need you to do?)  The grease that makes the triple play easier is transparency: will you embrace and create an environment where we can see each other work, and make decisions in open dialogue: not behind closed doors.

If your calendar and your entertainment dollar allow; take in a fabulous leadership lesson in trust by being in the audience for Ovo, the newest and most exciting Cirque Du Soliel production I’ve seen yet.

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/ovo/tickets/minneapolis.aspx

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Ovo; acrobatic lessons in trust

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